1100 5th Avenue
Tulio’s is an Italian bistro found at the top of Downtown Seattle, but at the base of First Hill. I, in the interest of full disclosure, live at the top of First Hill. First Hill has varying degrees of inclines, including a steep segment of Spring Street that must be an incline of forty five to fifty degrees.
What has this got to do with Tulio’s? Well, let’s just say that’s its easier to walk there than it is to walk back, for reasons beyond the mere physical dimensions of First Hill. I ate much at Tulio’s. And more importantly, I ate well. Not fantastic… but well.
This Tuscan Italian bistro has an intimate and cozy atmosphere, of this there is no doubt. The low lights and the non-interesting “traditionalˮ Tuscan dÃ©cor subtley guides your attention to your food and your dining companions.
The menu itself is interesting enough to hold’s one attention for several minutes. Based off the initial menu by Chef Walter Pisano (who has since moved onto other projects…namely Troiani’s on Third), new head chef Tim Ferguson was smart enough to know not to mess with what has worked. The Menu carries such items as the Baccala, Potato and Herb Stuffed Roasted Onion and the Ravioli Filled with Smoked Salmon. I stare at the menu for what seems like hours, finally choosing the Sweet Potato Gnocchi for starters, and then followed by the Grilled Dry Aged Rib Eye.
I ask Linda, my server to recommend a nice wine. She mentions several of which I choose a Terra Blanca Syrah. This promises to be good.
As I sit, waiting patiently for the gnocchi, I am brought some soft, moist focaccia. How often have restaurant forgotten that bread is part of the meal and have given their customers stale, hard crusts. I am lucky. Tulio’s seems to know that bread should be paid attention to.
The gnocchi arrives, and Linda pours the Syrah. I hold off on the wine, wanting to taste these small, infamous morsels of potato. A lightly caramelized crust coats each sweet potato dumpling, giving just a slight crunch as you bite into each. Sage sits in waiting to surprise you once the primary flavor of the sweet potato dissipates from you palate. The buttery undercurrent warms me from head to toe. It’s a fine start to the meal.
The Syrah ends up being a nice compliment to the gnocchi. It coats the tongue with a plum and clove essence, and its tannins hold back their punch, supporting the wine rather than overpowering it. It fits the sweet potato nicely. I’m getting heady. Is this going to be one of the fable “perfectˮ meals?
Alas, it’s not to be so. The main course arrives: a medium rare rib eye served with ricotta potatoes. It’s smells marvelous, all beefy and moist. I take my knife and slice a piece off carefully.
Damn it. They cooked it medium. But it’s a finely cooked medium, I’ll give them that. Technically proficient, the slab of rib eye is bursting with moistness. Unfortunately, it’s utterly lacking in flavor. I wonder how this can happen while taking several more bites.
I end up blaming the meat industry for this one. In order to make beef a more marketable meal, they have bred cattle to produce a more lean cut of meat. Unfortunately, more lean means less fat. And less fat? That means less flavor. Beef is going the way of Pork in this country, with health concerns taking precedent over little things such as taste.
I search my rib eye for more fat seams. There are none. I sigh a little sigh and resign myself to the fact that the beef is a lifeless lump of cooked muscle tissue, and nothing more. I take a bite of the ricotta potatoes to ease my pain.
I am unimpressed. I several sips of the syrah and push the entrÃ©e away. Only one thing will save this meal now…dessert.
It’s a nice menu, and great care has been given to the choices on the menu. I bypass the standard tiramisu and head for the Pistachio Semifreddo. Linda smiles. I hope this is a good sign.
She arrives with he pistachio mousse on a bed of chocolate sauce, with a bit of Orange confit on top to garnish and compliment. I take a bite. It’s smooth and flavorful. The sweetness of the mousse goes well with the saltiness of the ground nuts. The sauce and confit balance the dessert nicely.
I am pleased. A good meal, although not a great one. As I leave, I look at the walk I have back up the hill and wonder if it was worth the effort.
Yeah, I tell myself. It was.